President Obama's Trip to Jamaica: 6 Cross-Cultural Communication Tips

President Obama at University of the West Indies (UWI)Last week, there was a lot of excitement in Jamaica when President Barack Obama became the 2nd sitting U.S. President to visit Jamaica. (In 1982, Ronald Reagan was the first.) What was particularly meaningful was the steps he took to engage with his audiences across cultures and generations. 

Here are some take-aways for cross-cultural communication for all event planners organizing meetings and conferences in other countries. Be sure to pass them on to the speakers you engage for meetings and conferences.

  1. Surround yourself with advisors who are familiar with the local culture.
    President Obama selected Jamaican-born, U.S. Congresswoman Yvette Clarke to accompany him on his trip to Jamaica. (She was behind President Obama when he stepped out of Air Force One after landing in Jamaica.)
  2. Even during formal meetings, cross-cultural exchanges are made much easier by seeking opportunities to engage at a personal level.


  1. Familiarize yourself with the local protocol but also "know thy audience" to recognize when it is appropriate to depart from it.
    We have previously discussed the fact that the openings for speeches and presentations in the Caribbean are typically more formal than in the U.S. and Canada.

    President Obama dispensed with the formalities and endeared himself to his audience of young Jamaican leaders (including many millennials)
  2. Look for opportunities to incorporate local expressions and aspects of the local culture into keynotes and presentations, even if it is briefly.
    With a refreshing approach to the opening of his Town Hall that incorporated some Jamaican patois, President Obama brought the house down!

    The first part of this video (up to 03:00) is a must-see. It generated a lot of buzz in traditional and social media.

  1. Be approachable.
    After a brief and inspiring speech, President Obama removed his jacket and threw the floor open for an extended question period. Now that's the way to host a town hall.
  1. Engage with local celebrities and personalities in your audience.
    President Obama took the time to acknowledge Jamaican Olympic Gold Medalists Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in his audience.

More information about "Barack in Jamrock" is on the White House website.

For more tips from President Obama's Town Halls, also read Twitter Townhall at The White House: A Game Changing Virtual Meeting and  LinkedIn Townhall: President Obama Again Role Models Executive Social Media Engagement.

Photo Credits: Oroyo Eubanks - Jamaica Information Service (JIS)

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